scilogs Biology of Religion

The Amish - A Special Case in Evolutionary Studies

from Michael Blume, 01. May 2010, 22:00

At first glance, nothing would appear to be more different than the Amish on the one side and scientific evolutionary studies on the other. After all, the Amish are a Christian group which branched from the Mennonite Anabaptist movement in Europe during the 16th century and whose members do not seek "worldly wisdom" as e.g. higher education. But on the other hand, the Amish are actually living the very riddle of evolutionary religious studies: They are accepting numerous religious commandments and costly requirements and they had to face discrimination and prosecution throughout Europe - and they nevertheless managed to expand demographically and culturally, passing on their genes and religious-cultural traditions with extreme success. While "modern" and secular Germans and Swiss are dwindling due to the lack of children, the Old Order Amish from the same stock are thriving. How do they do that?

Of course, there are lots of information about the Amish available, the Young Center for Pietist and Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College being a source of strong research and well-written books. There are even informative clips to be found on YouTube: 

In 1900, the Old Order Amish numbered about 5.000 adult members, forming a fringe minority frequently accused to be "dumb Germans". But while the US fertility declined to about two children per woman in the USA, the Amish retained their large families and increased their retention rates with the establishment of their own school system. As a result, although reluctant in accepting converts, the Old Order Amish began to grow exponentially, doubling every 15 to 20 years.

In fact, the high fertility rates of the Amish cannot be explained without their religious traditions - proving the evolutionary potential of religiosity. And please note that we know about a lot of other high-fertile religious communities as e.g. the Hutterites, the Mormons, the Haredim (ultra-orthodox Jews) etc. - but of not a single secular group that was able to have enough children to retain its numbers! Long fascinated by the combination of statistical data and ethnological observation, I recently  published another paper on the subject (free download per click):

Von Hayek and the Amish Fertility
How religious communities manage
to be fruitful and multiply – A Case study

Regardless if you are religious or not: From a purely scientific perspective, the Amish are a compelling case study in understanding human evolution - past and present...

 

* Another blogpost about the Amish on the German Scilog "Natur des Glaubens"



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